If it’s 4pm on a fall Thursday you will more than likely find me leaning on a chain link fence at my local high school taking in a freshman football game. Don’t particularly know the players or coaches anymore, just an opportunity to get my fix. I love this game of football. Sure I have my priorities, barely. My wife and my kids come first, but after that, football is king. I have played, coached, and refereed the game. I have spent a lifetime watching college and professional football and recently estimated I am approaching my two thousandth televised football game.
With all of this experience I have never once pretended to appreciate being subjected to even one NFL caliber hit. My wife once asked if I could play one sport professionally, what it would be. Thinking this was a no brainer, she was stunned at my answer. Easy, golf. What? Sure, travel Monday, practice round Tuesday, some community driven event Wednesday and 4 rounds of golf. Finish 54th and collect 18K.
Why on earth would I subject my body that kind of punishment? This brings me to my point. The football fan who sits on their couch, in their robes sipping coffee and tweeting or blogging about how hard hits, injuries and bounties are part of the game are no better than the Nascar fan who watches 3 hours of racing only in hopes of catching a glimpse of a 15 car pileup. We have all seen the fan that gives our sport a bad name. Literally bellying up to a sports bar wearing his Steelers number 93 James Harrison Jersey, two sizes too small trying with equal ineffectiveness to wear the same Harrison scowl. It requires no more toughness to be a football fan than it does to spend a Sunday antiquing.
If you truly love this game, consider some of the following statements. A minimum of one high school football player in the state of Texas suffers permanent paralysis each and every year. Towns all over this great county where self- contained leagues of 4, 6, maybe 8 teams were the norm, are now combining with other towns just to form one Pop Warner team. Sports like soccer and lacrosse are growing at astronomical rates and are offering an alternative to mom’s who don’t want their kids playing football. High School Administrators experiencing tight budgets are fighting every day to eliminate sports from their budgets.
Does a professional league have any responsibility to send positive messages of sportsmanship and health to young fans? Charles Barkley has changed his mind. He now recognizes his obligation as a high profile celebrity. Baseball, at the college and minor league levels, has banned smokeless tobacco and MLB isn’t far behind. Can the same league that champions causes like NFL Play 60, which encourages children to get 60 minutes of exercise a day, The United Way, and Punt Pass and Kick competitions really think placing bounties on opponent’s best players would fly in today’s NFL?
I truly respect the opinion of men with NFL playing experience. I completely understand how a mentality that has been fostered since the game has been played seems customary. But what kind of country would we live in if the once customary notions of gunfights over poker games still existed? Here is what I don’t understand. If all those hits would be a part of the NFL with or without bounties, then why would respected NFL coordinator Gregg Williams risk his reputation for allegedly paying cash for injuries?
Paint me as a cowardly NFL fan if you must, but I have supported the changes that serve to protect the safety of NFL Players. While I get as frustrated as the next guy for the flag that cost my defense 15 yards for a graze of a quarterback’s helmet, it’s better than the alternative; spending a month’s pay on a weekend in New Orleans in 1989 for the privilege of watching Kyle Mackey lead the New York Jets onto the Superdome carpet. The NFL has made it very clear, they will protect their stars. Fans circle the dates on their favorite team’s schedule when Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, or Andre Johnson come to town. I have never once heard a fan say “I can’t wait for the game this week; I hear there’s a bounty”.